KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After spending nearly a week at Milligan College, Tennessee returned home to Rocky Top on Thursday, practicing under the lights at Haslam Field in preparation for Friday's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
The practice ended a long day for the Vols as they spent the morning moving into their fall housing accommodations as they get ready for school to start next week. Although that proved to be a distraction during the evening practice, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said it also provided a valuable lesson that will serve the team well in the long run.
“At Milligan we had no distractions, nothing going on,” Dooley said. “The mental focus was as good as I’ve been around with our team and coaches. Of course now, we came back and they all had to move into fall housing so that was a big distracting element. We could start feeling the first day of school coming so we had a lot of mental mistakes out there.
“It was a good lesson for the team to clear their mind before practice and try to eliminate all that clutter. We have a big scrimmage tomorrow. It will be our last real big one and important for evaluations so I’m looking forward to it.”
After a strong first scrimmage last week at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, the Big Orange is looking to fine tune its play in specific situations on Friday.
“We hope we keep improving in all areas, but tomorrow will be a lot more situational stuff instead of just running plays,” Dooley said. “Learning how to manage the end of the game -- four-minute offense, four-minute defense, two-minute offense, two-minute defense – and making the critical plays at the critical times. It’s stuff you don’t work on a lot but it can be the difference in a game.”
DOOLEY DEEMS MILLIGAN TRIP A SUCCESS
Reflecting on the team’s trip to Milligan College on Thursday, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley could not have been more pleased.
The six-day trip to upper East Tennessee was clearly time well spent for the Vols who hope it will have a lasting impact throughout the season.
“If you look back at what we did that week, it’s hard look at it and see what we could have done differently and that’s rare for a move like that,” Dooley said. “I’m not sure that there is anything we could have done differently that we feel could have made it better. I have no complaints with our team’s approach, how they handled it and some of the benefits that came out of it. I think it was a real positive experience.”
As a reward for his team’s performance during the off-site training camp, Dooley sent his squad home a little early, cancelling the final practice on Wednesday evening at the last minute.
“[That decision] really wasn’t made until about two o’clock yesterday,” Dooley said. “I just felt that we had a great camp, it was a hard morning practice, they were pushing and there hadn’t been one negative complaint and I know they were hurting. I just felt it was the right thing to do. They earned it and they probably needed it more than anything.”
The gesture was one the team definitely appreciated.
“It was like third graders on the last day of school,” sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said. “Everybody just freaked out and were jumping around. It was a good feeling, a great feeling. We came today to work and it was a great feeling. It was a long camp.”
The original inspiration for the off-site training camp was based on an experience from Dooley’s own youth, as he explained Thursday.
“We did it in high school,” Dooley said. “We loaded up yellow hounds and drove six hours on a two-line highway to Jekyll Island, Georgia. I told the team that when I get back with my old high school buddies the first thing we talk about is Jekyll Island. I thought it helped us. We went 52-4 in four years and I thought that was a big reason for it. That and we had some good players.
“We did it every year for one week and it was miserable. It was different then. We had six guys in a room with two double beds and a sofa bed and we never washed our clothes. We never washed our uniforms, think about that. Staph infections going everywhere. Your pants after the last practice, you could stand them up. These guys have no idea.”
A CHANGE DID FOWLKES GOOD
Redshirt senior Steven Fowlkes, like many of his other teammates has had to deal with change throughout his career. The now-defensive lineman originally came to Tennessee as a 6-5, 213 pound wide receiver.
Looking at him now you would never have known as the College Park, Ga. native added as much as 50 pounds to his tall frame for his final go around at Rocky Top.
"I have changed a lot," said Fowlkes. "I have put on a couple pounds. I have always been up and down. This is the first time my weight has been consistent. I am at about 265/270 right now. That is the key. My mind set has changed a lot too. When I first got here I was more of a finesse guy trying to get around guys. This year I feel like I am trying to get through them."
All-area as wide receiver and defensive end in high school, Fowlkes' permanent move to defense didn't faze him as much as it could have. And after four full seasons at Tennessee he feels prepared heading into his final season.
"Camp is going good," said Fowlkes. "As a defense we are just trying to make the finishing touches. I feel right now I am at a good position where I am starting to get deep inside my playbook. I am starting to make plays. Coach Sal always talks about making more plays. Now that I understand the defense, understand where I am supposed to be, understand where I go, I can start making plays."
Fowlkes had a lot of time last season to build up his game. After some academic issues, Fowlkes didn't see any playing time on the field, but had the good fortune to go against the first team every day in practice as a member of the scout team. One of the best, according to Dooley.
"It was a bad situation but my mom and dad always said to me that bad things are going to come and good things are going to come," said Fowlkes. "I am just blessed. I appreciate my teammates being behind me and sticking with me. I feel like even though I sat out a lot, I also got a lot of chances to work against good tacklers like Ja'Wuan James and Dallas Thomas. So I feel like they helped me to get better. This year I feel like it is good competition every day. Hopefully I will be able to get into the game and make some changes to the defense."
Fowlkes is ready for the first game of the season against NC State in Atlanta on August 31 at the Georgia Dome.
"I have been through a lot but at the end of the day I am just happy to be here and happy to have a good role in this defense. I am ready to see how go out there and play ball."
Unlike baseball, left-handed players are not quite as coveted on the football field, especially at center.
After two seasons of snapping with his naturally dominant left hand, junior center James Stone has made a smooth transition to snapping with his right hand when the quarterback is under center.
"[Snapping with both hands] has been going pretty good," Stone said. "I haven't had that many mishaps with it and if [Bray is] under center, then I know I just give it to him with my right [hand] and if it's gun, then I'm looking in between my legs, so it's not really an issue. I feel more comfortable every day with it. I'm going to keep working with it and continue to get better and get reps at full speed in practice."
The Nashville native says he is getting more comfortable with every practice is prepared for the upcoming season which is less than 15 days away.
"I feel like the [extra work I put in this summer] is really paying off," Stone said. "It let me be able to get a base comfort level so I wouldn't just be going in like a freshman in there at full speed."
Looking ahead to Friday's team scrimmage, Stone is excited about the opportunity to show exactly how much both he and the entire offense have improved since last season.
"I feel like [tomorrow's scrimmage] is going to be a chance again for us to go out there again and establish our goals on offense and be able to establish them on a consistent basis," Stone said. "There's always competition between the offense and defense and that's going to continue on into tomorrow's scrimmage. I know something that [the defense] is going to be focusing on is stopping [the offense] so we just have to go out there and continue to do well no matter what."
An object of every offensive player's thoughts these days is their 6-6, 377-pound teammate across the line, junior defensive tackle Daniel McCullers.
"Going up against [McCullers] is a new experience for me," Stone said. "I've never been up against somebody that big. I feel like it's great work, because you really have to be technically sound when I'm going against somebody as big as McCullers. He has a difficult block but it's because he can move for his size, and then just his size itself. For how big he is, he's really quick."
MAGGITT GETS MIND RIGHT
Vols linebacker Curt Maggitt heads into Friday's scrimmage knowing how important the glorified practice will be. Just two weeks from when the Vols will be on the field at Neyland Stadium, they will be playing their first game of the 2012 season at the Georgia Dome.
"It is very important to us," said Maggitt. "Last scrimmage didn't go as well as we would have liked. This scrimmage we are coming out and trying to make a statement and get better."
Maggitt said its more than just execution of plays that will determine the team's success.
"It always gets back to the mindset," said Maggitt. "If you want to be in your right gap I feel like you will and you will make a play. Just coming out, wanting to do better and trying to do better. I feel like we will."
Just a sophomore, Maggitt has taken on a leadership role and has been charged with calling the plays as the MIKE linebacker at times with senior Herman Lathers as his mentor.
"I am making the calls more," said Maggitt. "Herman is always there to help me out if I made a call wrong on the field, I get to the sideline and he will talk to me about it. He is still there helping to lead us. Herman has helped me out a lot understanding it. Coach Staley and Coach Sal have helped me out a lot. I am understand the defense a lot more."
With fellow sophomore A.J. Johnson and Lathers at his sides, Maggitt has good feelings about the linebackers from the first-team and down the line.
"It is a lot better than last year," said Maggitt. "I feel like from 1s, 2s and 3s everybody is getting together, getting closer, competing, there is a lot of love for each other."
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On defensive line depth)
“I feel better about depth than I did in the spring. Getting Dan [Hood] in there and then having [Darrington] Sentimore and Mo Couch coming on was really important because if they didn’t we would be back to square one.”
(On the pass rush)
“The base guys have to pass rush too. It is based on stopping the run and the jury is out on whether we can do it or not and I don’t know if we can. All of them have to be able to pass rush, but we try to specialize a little bit given their body types on when to put them in the game. I’ve seen evidence that we will get more pressure on the quarterback. I have and I think we will.”
(On the similarities between Steven Fowlkes and Corey Miller)
“It’s fair to say that they have some similarities. They will both help us in sub, pass rush, that sort of thing.”
(On an updated depth chart)
“We usually don’t set it until that first day of preparation for our first game. It will probably be later next week.”
(On Marlin Lane being seen as having been passed up at running back)
“I don’t think it is really what Marlin has done, Marlin is doing good. It’s probably more about what the other two have done very well if that makes sense. Nobody is disappointed in Marlin. He is having a good camp. I would like to see him go out there and generate some big plays for us and do a great job in pass protection like he can do. He is going to play for us and we are going to need him.”
(On Justin King)
“He’s doing good. I feel bad for Justin. We’ve put him on four phases of special teams, we have him playing fullback, we have him playing tight end, we are doing some other stuff with him and the poor guy is swimming. Every coach is yelling at him and it’s not his fault so we have to try to figure out where he can lock in and help us and phase him into this thing. We’ve thrown everything at him and that’s what happens with these versatile guys, the big-body types who can do a lot of things. You throw a lot at them to see where they can fit.”
SOPHOMORE LB CURT MAGGITT
(On how surprised he was when they canceled the last practice at Milligan)
“It was crazy. My heart dropped when I saw the buses on the screen and everybody was freaking out and jumping around. It was good.”
(On the scrimmage tomorrow)
“I feel like it is very important since it is our last scrimmage of the summer going into the season. We have to get everything right. I feel like we are trying to get as close to perfection as possible.”
(On what he missed while at Milligan)
“My bed. Milligan was just football, all football. It was a great experience. It was a good feeling being back home.”
JUNIOR OL JAMES STONE
(On practice after returning to campus)
“[Since being back from Milligan], we have continued to focus on [running the ball] and that’s going to remain an emphasis on offense. We’re going to remain trying to focus on that in the scrimmage tomorrow as well.”
(On when they found out they got to leave Milligan early)
“It was joyous. Nobody really expected it, so for Coach Dooley to do that it was pretty surprising. He said he felt like we were doing so good, so he was just ‘throwing us a bone,’ and he really liked the work that we were getting done last week.”
RS SOPHOMORE DL GREGORY CLARK
(On 3-4 formation)
“It’s been much better for me because it help me use my body and my side much better than playing the 4-3. I think I fit it pretty good. I’m a pretty big dude, so I feel like that fit me a lot better than playing the 4-3 defense tackle.”
(On tomorrow’s scrimmage)
“Tomorrow is a real big scrimmage to me. We’ll get a lot of things settled tomorrow during the scrimmage. We all got to go out there and play hard tomorrow like it’s a game.”
(On Coach Palermo)
“Coach Palermo is a great guy, whatever we need or need to talk to him about anything, I can go talk to him about whatever, the plays I mess up on, or practice I have bad energy on.”
(On doubting himself)
“I feel like that many times, like Tennessee wasn’t the place for me, but I just stuck in it, Coach Dooley is a great guy, talked with him about it, and I feel like this is my home so I’m just running with it. I felt like this is where God brought me so this is where I need to be.”
RS SENIOR DL STEVEN FOWLKES
(On how his role is important)
“I see that as an important role on the team. Coach Dooley is always talking about doing your role the best way possible. I understand that is my role so every day I try to get extra work on the pass rush, try to watch more film, just trying to get my pass rush game right.”
(On how camp is slowing down)
“It is starting to slow down a little bit. On the other hand it is starting to speed up as we get closer to game time. We are just trying to get all the nicks out, and just get ready to play ball on the 31st.”
(On Coach Palermo and Coach Gentry)
“He is a good coach. He is a very patient man. He is always there if you need help. Even if it is ten o’clock at night, you give him a call to go over plays and he is right there for you. Also Coach Gentry, he is a big part of this D-line too because he played in the defense and had success in the defense. I think JP [Coach Palermo] is a wonderful coach and is doing a great job but also I have to give Coach Gentry some love. All summer he was here helping us day and night. If you need help with the plays he would come to your crib, he will bring some food and we will go over plays all night. I give props to both of them. JP [Coach Palermo] is a great coach, I love him.”
JUNIOR DL COREY MILLER
(On tomorrow’s scrimmage)
“It’s huge. It’s huge for everybody on the defense. We’ve got to be ready to play. We have to show the coaches what we can do and how we can perform in different situations. We’ve all been performing a little bit better lately coming out of Milligan so it’s a good time for the defense to show what we can do.”
(On the pass rush)
“Pass rush plays a huge role. First off, you got to stop the run and when you stop the run it’s time to have some fun. That’s the way I look at it. If we ball hard, we can go out there and get after the quarterback. If we get in a situation where the quarterback drops back, we guys got to eat. I love the pass rush. I have a knack for it so I hope I can contribute.”
(On teammate Daniel McCullers)
“Put it like this, if I was on an opposing team and I see big McCullers get off the bus, I’m shaking already. I don’t know how it will all play out, but that guy is going to get the job done.”
(On being rewarded with practice off)
“Everybody was prepared to practice, but kudos to Coach Dooley for allowing us to get a little break for a minute. We worked hard and he showed us his appreciation for it.”
SOPHOMORE TB MARLIN LANE
(On preparing for practice)
“I would say mentally, just going out there, going through every day in practice and meetings and getting up and taking care of my body. I am just going through and fighting through.”
(On showing the coaches what he is made of)
“I have to go out there and do my job. I have to go out and show them what I have learned from my two weeks in camp. I have been more consistent mentally, leaving meetings and striving for our goals that we have on the board.”